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Riley v. Colvin

United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Charleston Division

March 31, 2016

DIANA RILEY, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.



This matter is before the court on United States Magistrate Judge Bristow Marchant’s Report and Recommendation (“R&R”) that this court affirm Acting Commissioner of Social Security Carolyn Colvin’s (the “Commissioner”) decision denying plaintiff Diana Riley’s (“Riley”) application for disability insurance benefits (“DIB”). Riley filed objections to the R&R. For the reasons set forth below, the court adopts the R&R and affirms the Commissioner’s decision.


Unless otherwise noted, the following background is drawn from the R&R.

A. Procedural History

Riley filed an application for DIB on December 2, 2010, alleging disability beginning April 1, 2009. The Social Security Agency denied Riley’s claim initially and on reconsideration. Riley requested a hearing before an administrative law judge (“ALJ”), and ALJ Peggy McFadden-Elmore held a hearing on January 16, 2013. The ALJ issued a decision on March 1, 2013, finding that Riley was not disabled under the Social Security Act. Riley requested Appeals Council review of the ALJ’s decision. The Appeals Council declined to review the decision, rendering the ALJ’s decision the final action of the Commissioner.

On August 12, 2014, Riley filed this action seeking review of the ALJ’s decision. The magistrate judge issued an R&R on September 8, 2015, recommending that this court affirm the ALJ’s decision. Riley filed objections to the R&R on September 15, 2015, and the Commissioner responded to Riley’s objections on September 25, 2015. The matter is now ripe for the court’s review.

B. Medical History

Because Riley’s medical history is not directly at issue here, the court dispenses with a lengthy recitation thereof and instead notes a few relevant facts. Riley was born on June 11, 1949 and was 59 years old at the time of her alleged disability onset date. She communicates in English and has a high school education.

C. ALJ’s Decision

The ALJ employed the statutorily required five-step sequential evaluation process to determine whether Riley was disabled from April 1, 2009 through December 31, 2011, her date last insured. The ALJ first determined that Riley had not engaged in substantial gainful activity during the relevant time period. Tr. 15. At step two, the ALJ found that Riley suffered from the following severe impairments: obesity, degenerative disc disease, back pain, status post total left knee replacement, status post right knee arthroscopy, and bilateral leg and knee pain. Id. At step three, the ALJ determined that Riley’s impairments did not meet or equal one of the listed impairments in the Agency’s Listing of Impairments (“the Listings”). Tr. 17; see 20 C.F.R. § 404, Subpt. P, App’x 1. Before reaching the fourth step, the ALJ determined that Riley had the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform sedentary work, as defined by 20 C.F.R. § 404.1567(a).[1] Tr. 17. Additionally, the ALJ determined that Riley could occasionally climb ramps or stairs, balance, and stoop, but could never kneel, crouch, or crawl, could never climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds, and must avoid concentrated exposure to extreme cold, vibration, and hazards such as machinery and heights. Id. At step four, the ALJ found that Riley was able to perform past relevant work as an order clerk/complaint clerk, secretary, and purchasing agent, and therefore concluded that she was not disabled during the period at issue. Tr. 22.


This court is charged with conducting a de novo review of any portion of the magistrate judge’s R&R to which specific, written objections are made. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1). A party’s failure to object is accepted as agreement with the conclusions of the magistrate judge. See Thomas v. Arn, 474 U.S. 140, 149–50 (1985). The recommendation of the magistrate judge carries no presumptive weight, and the responsibility to make a final determination rests with this court. Mathews v. Weber, 423 U.S. 261, 270–71 (1976).

Judicial review of the Commissioner’s final decision regarding disability benefits “is limited to determining whether the findings of the [Commissioner] are supported by substantial evidence and whether the correct law was applied.” Hays v. Sullivan, 907 F.2d 1453, 1456 (4th Cir. 1990). Substantial evidence is “more than a mere scintilla of evidence but may be somewhat less than a preponderance.” Id. (internal citations omitted). “[I]t is not within the province of a reviewing court to determine the weight of the evidence, nor is it the court’s function to substitute its judgment for that of the [Commissioner] if his decision is supported by substantial evidence.” Id. Where conflicting evidence “allows reasonable minds to differ as to whether a claimant is disabled, the responsibility for that decision falls on the [ALJ], ” not on the reviewing court. Craig v. Chater, 76 F.3d 585, 589 ...

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